Quiet, considerate young boy is fine just the way he is
Question: We have a 9-yearold boy who is quiet, careful, thoughtful and very, very shy. Does that mean he is not “all boy”? Should we be trying to change him, to make him more assertive and aggressive?
Dobson: The wonderful thing about the way human beings are designed is their marvelous variability and complexity. We are all different and unique. My previous discussions of aggressive, risktaking boys represent an effort to characterize young males, showing what is typical and how they are different from their sisters. However, they also differ from one another on a thousand traits.
I remember taking my 10year-old son and his friend on a skiing trip one day. As we rode the gondola to the top of the mountain, I prepared to take a picture of the two boys with the beautiful landscape visible behind them. Ryan, my son, was smiling and clowning for the camera, while Ricky was just sitting quietly. Ryan then asked Ricky to wave and goof off like he was doing. Ricky replied solemnly, “I’m not that kind of person.” It was true. The two boys were at opposite ends of the continuum in their personalities. I still have that picture of the two kids — one going crazy and the other appearing bored half to death. Each of them was “all boy.”
Your son is certainly not alone in his characteristic shyness. According to the New York Longitudinal Study, approximately 15 percent of babies are somewhat quiet and passive in the nursery. That feature of their temperaments tends to be persistent throughout childhood and beyond. They may be very spontaneous or funny when they are comfortable at home. When they are with strangers, however, their tongues are thrust into their cheeks and they don’t know what to say. Some kids are like this because they have been hurt or rejected in the past. The more likely explanation is that they were born that way. Some parents are embarrassed by the introversion of their children and try to change them. It is a fool’s errand. No amount of goading or pushing by their parents will make them outgoing, flamboyant and confident.
My advice to you is to go with the flow. Accept your child just the way he is made. Then look for those special qualities that give your boy individuality and potential. Nurture him. Cultivate him. And then give him time to develop into his own unique personality like no other human being on Earth.
Question: My wife and I have a strong-willed child who is incredibly difficult to handle. I honestly believe we are doing our job about as well as any parents would do under the circumstances, yet she still breaks the rules and challenges our authority. I guess I need some encouragement. First, tell me if an especially strong-willed kid can be made to smile and give and work and cooperate. If so, how is that accomplished? And second, what is my daughter’s future? I see trouble ahead, but don’t know if that gloomy forecast is justified.
Dobson: There is no question about it; an especially willful child such as yours can be difficult to manage even when her parents handle her with great skill and dedication. It may take several years to bring her to a point of relative obedience and cooperation within the family unit, but it will happen. While this training program is in progress, it is important not to panic. Don’t try to complete the transformation overnight.
Treat your child with sincere love and dignity, but require her to follow your leadership. Choose carefully the matters which are worthy of confrontation; then accept her challenge on those issues and win decisively.
Reward every positive, cooperative gesture she makes by offering your attention, affection and verbal praise. Then take two aspirin and call me in the morning.